NBA Rookie Mid-Season Report Card

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When this season started, things were looking glum for one of the highest-billed rookie classes the NBA has produced in more than a decade. Injuries were rife, performance was less-than-advertised. Now, as the middle of the season approaches, there is some more of the same—but we’re also seeing signs of progress. We went ahead and graded this year’s top 10 draft picks to give an idea of what they’re doing right and what they need to improve upon.

 

Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr/Creative Commons


1. Andrew Wiggins: A-
Number one’s back after an inconsistent start to the season. As of press time, Andrew Wiggins has already had more 20-point games in the NBA than Anthony Davis had his entire rookie year. He has also been named the NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December—his second consecutive month earning the honour—and leads all active Western Conference rooks in points per game. The Minnesota Timberwolves’ resident Canuck isn’t without his problems, however, most notably a less-than-promised 41.7 per cent shooting average.

2. Jabari Parker: B
This year’s number two pick is out indefinitely with an injury to the left knee, but 25 games is enough to get an idea of what to expect from Jabari Parker. He was at his best under the rim, putting up 12.3 points per game and 49 per cent shooting from the field. He also hit 69.7 per cent from the charity strip. However, he’s far from a contender in mid-range, and he only connects a quarter of the time from beyond the arc. His weaknesses and strengths are well-defined as a result. He’s consistent for now, but he’ll have to extend his range once he’s back on his feet.

3. Joel Embiid: NG
Number three is recovering from a foot stress fracture sustained before the beginning of the season.

4. Aaron Gordon: C+
Also injured. Who would have guessed? However, Aaron Gordon has had enough game time to show his colours. He’s a solid rookie who, in 11 games, has averaged six points and three rebounds per game and netted a 58.1 shooting percentage. Most of that was thanks to his athletic ability, not so much shot creation. However, he needs to develop into a player that can mesh more easily with the Orlando Magic’s star power (Victor Oladipo, for one) to untap his potential. Now, he’ll have to do that from afar.

5. Dante Exum: B
Dante Exum is showing potential as a strong offensive force for the Utah Jazz—not now, but some day. He’d be red-faced to admit his 38.8 per cent shooting average from the field, but he also averages 5.2 points per game and boasts an increasingly-consistent three-point shot that connects 33.7 per cent of the time. To make up for his weaknesses, Exum shows maturity and decision-making that’s uncommon in a 19-year-old which will serve him well after his rookie years are behind him.

6. Marcus Smart: C-
With Rajon Rondo fresh off the Boston Celtics’ roster, the pressure’s on Marcus Smart. The stacked 6-foot-4 player’s physicality is earning him accolades at home and a few enemies abroad (DeMarcus Cousins, for one). You can expect his aggressive play to come in handy on both ends as he progresses. At the moment, however, his game has yet to match his intensity on the offensive front. He has shot 37.1 per cent from the field and commands a 10.68 player efficiency rating. All told, it’s hard to hold Smart’s performance against him—he’s still only a rookie on a do-over team.

7. Julius Randle: NG
The seventh draft pick of 2014 suffered a broken leg during his NBA debut.

8. Nik Stauskas: D-
Mississauga, Ontario product Nik Stauskas hasn’t gotten many minutes, but it’s already clear he’s having a tough time adjusting to an unforgiving league. He’s averaging a calamitous 3.6 points and one rebound per game, with an overall player efficiency rating hovering just below six. Granted, he’s mostly spreading the floor and playing support for DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay when he’s on the court, but he’s also giving up more shots than he ought to be.

9. Noah Vonleh: NG
After playing only a handful of minutes for his NBA debut, Noah Vonleh was quickly sent packing to the Charlotte Hornets’ D-League affiliates, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. It seems that he put his time in Florida to good use. In two games, he averaged seven points and 4.5 rebounds before being recalled by Charlotte. He’s still unlikely to see more minutes, making us hesitant to give him a grade.

10. Elfrid Payton: B-

While not originally considered much of an offensive threat, Elfrid Payton is now holding up both ends of the court with 39.7 per cent shooting from the field coupled with 3.4 rebounds and 6.9 points per game. His offensive prowess may have been especially surprising to the Brooklyn Nets last week, when Payton doled out 13 points in the fourth quarter. He’s also shown signs of improving his true shooting percentage. Overall, he’s providing ample support for his Chicago Bulls when and where the team needs it.
 
  
 
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